I’d like to say goodbye––to Ehye. Killing Herya was bad enough. Destroying the lives of two entire peoples, I guess that wasn’t enough for him. I mean, face it: Mitsrayim isn’t much more than a ruin right now. It’s a country the way a country that’s just lost a major war is a country. It’s played-out, exhausted, struggling to limp along from one day to the next. Inflicting that kind of punishment on everybody in the place, including babies, is pretty crummy, but to kill somebody like Menna for no reason, a nice, sweet old guy who never did anything but try to help other people and make their lives better; a guy who went so far out of his way to go against the society around him that now, at fourteen, I’m probably the best-educated woman in Upper and Lower Mitsrayim––killing Menna was making it really personal, even more than it was with Herya. She was like an innocent bystander; Menna was an innocent target. If he dies while Ipuy, who’s actually responsible for some pretty horrible things, stays alive––well, then, screw the whole thing. Just because Ehye thinks he’s running my life doesn’t mean that I have to believe he’s there. He can hurt me as much as he wants, I won’t ever let him be my god.
Neshi was sitting on the floor and weeping the way you’re supposed to when someone dies, especially when someone is your father. I’d just seen him lose his mother, too, and––if you wanted to count her––his sister. None of us could have done anything about what happened to his father or anyone else who died tonight, but losing Takharu and Kefi was sort of voluntary. Neshi didn’t have to live like a Ya’akovi; he could go back anytime, as long as we were still in the country, and take up residence with his family all over again. I can’t imagine what it’s like to choose to give those things up, and I probably couldn’t do it. We still don’t really know what’s been going on tonight, but it’s getting near dawn and I have a feeling that we aren’t going to be here for too much longer. I feel sick about being forced to leave; only El Shaddai must know what it’s like when you choose to leave the people and things that you love. The Toldos never tells us how Father Abraham felt when God told him to leave Haran and go to Canaan. Terah, his father, was already dead. They never even mention his mother. I wonder where she was for all of this, what she said when she heard he was leaving. They don’t even tell us her name.
And Sarah, Abraham’s wife, probably left everything, too. We don’t know anything about her past: father, mother, sisters and brothers––if she had them, where she had them. Abraham made a decision; the whole point of going was that nothing would have happened to him if he’d stayed. He would have been just another guy in Haran with a wife and family, like a thousand other guys in Haran. He wouldn’t have amounted to much, but he wouldn’t have been punished, either.
But Sarah didn’t have any choice. Someone else decided for her. She suffered all the hardships of leaving and got none of the credit for having done so. No choice, no glory, no nothing––I feel just like her. I think we all feel just like her. Moses made a decision and we get dragged along in its wake, whether we want to or not, just like Sarah. Moses makes the decision, but we’re the ones who have to carry it out, just like Sarah must have done with the household and the servants and all of Abraham’s other possessions. It’s like we’re all married to Moses, but most of us have never seen him. Without us, he’d just be another high-born criminal who decided to leave the country; with us, he’s Pharaoh of his own little nation. Since the brand new god speaks to nobody but him, he might as well just call himself the god and be done with it. We don’t have anything to do with it. We were born into it and that’s all.
Neshi bought into it, though, and is getting something different from what he paid for. If I’m losing everything now, he could wind up losing everything twice. He’s left his Mitsrim for good and there’s no guarantee that creeps like Nefeg and his Goshenite friends might not try to kick him out of the Children of Israel. He’s as much one of us as Moses is––he’s more one of us than Moses; he’s been doing it longer and hasn’t tried to get anything out of it. He does it for itself; Moses does it to be a big shot, a ruler, the kind of king he could never be in Mitsrayim.
Moses’ being a Mits won’t help Neshi, though. The main thing he’s got going for him is being on friendly terms with Khushim, but once we’re out of here I don’t know if even somebody as scary as Khushim will be able to ward off a mob as big as a province.
Neshi’s spent the time since Takharu and Kefi left writing a letter to his father. It’s a Mitsri custom, the sort of thing that sure wouldn’t do him any good with people like Nefeg and the other vigilantes. It’s a bit early to write to Menna, but Neshi probably doesn’t feel that he has much choice. A dead body usually spends seventy days in the House of the Dead being mummified. Then it’s taken to its tomb and laid to rest with all kinds of ceremonies and meals. If the family brings it food offerings and says prayers, they think the person stays alive in the West. They really believe that the dead are still alive somewhere; they write them letters and even ask for their help and advice.
I don’t know what Neshi is writing to his tef about, but he hasn’t stopped sobbing all night. Muti is standing behind him with her hands on his shoulders, not saying anything, just standing there so that Neshi won’t be alone. This is the first time that I’ve even seen Neshi do anything so Mitsri. Leaving mail for the dead is one of the things we find funniest about Mitsrim; I’ve heard Neshi laugh about it plenty of times, so he must be feeling pretty shaky to be doing it where anybody coming into the house could see. I’ve been sad before, but never sad enough to stop caring what anybody thought. Here’s Neshi, though, doing something that he knows is nonsense just to try to get a grip on his feelings.
Neshi finished writing a few minutes after I finished that sentence. The sun was up by then, so we were allowed to go outside. Even thought it’s Shemu, the harvest season, the light was the color of jaundice. It felt cold, almost damp. People were walking up and down the streets, Mitsrim and Ya’akovim alike, in absolute silence. Even the Goshenites stayed quiet. They were silent, we were silent; no one looked at anyone else. Everybody walked, just walked, slowly and stiffly, like in some sort of dream. The Ya’akovim looked tired, the Mitsrim hopeless and stunned. We didn’t know any more about what had happened than Kefi and Takharu had told us. We just walked and walked. It was as if we were all dead, and that death was nothing but a slow, endless march through silent streets. Neshi was holding hands with my mother a few paces behind me. There were people in front of us and behind us, and a constant line of people heading in the opposite direction. The Mitsrim looked stricken. Their eyes were so hollow that you knew they were way beyond crying. The one thing you knew about these people was that they’d never be the same.
We’d probably been walking for half an hour and were already heading for home when we came to the square near our house. Joshua was in the middle again, on top of another pair of blocks. “Pharaoh has called Moses and Aaron to the palace and told them, ‘Go, worship this Ehye,’ for on the night now past the Lord struck down every firstborn male, from the palace to the prisons and the mines. He smote the firstborn of every animal and creeping thing in all the land of Mitsrayim, so long as that firstborn was male, and now all Mitsrayim knows that there is none like unto the Lord.” He spoke like it was two hundred years ago, but it wasn’t funny anymore. “And now arise, O Children of Israel, take your flocks and herds and let us go.” Joshua started to step down from his stones.
“Just like that?” asked a voice from the crowd. “Are we supposed to just pick up and leave right now, without even packing our bags?”
Joshua remounted the stones. “You were supposed to be ready when the darkness lifted. Why do you think Moses told you to despoil the Mitsrim?”
“And what about food?” asked somebody else.
Joshua shrugged and turned his palms up to the sky. He wasn’t talking old-fashioned anymore. “You got dough in the house? Take it with you and bake it on the way.”
“Well,” said Neshi, “I guess we’re going.” We went home to get our stuff––some clothes and cooking things, a couple of books for me and Neshi and, of course, this book. Word had gone out to the Mitsrim, too, and they lined the streets, terrified and angry, afraid to do anything to hurt us, but too mad to conceal their feelings.
“Go and don’t come back,” they screamed.
“Back to the sand where you came from!”
“Die in the desert!”
“Let the birds eat your flesh!”
They can’t get the dead out of their houses until after we’re gone––the streets are just too crowded.
I’m sitting cross-legged right now in the doorway of our house; I just turned around and looked at it for what is probably the last time. The line of Ya’akovim and Goshenites is so thick that we can’t even force our way into it––go excuse yourself to cattle and sheep––so we’ve been sitting here for hours looking for a break in the line. Meryt and her family are doing the same thing. Neshi has pulled himself together a little and has wandered over to talk to Khushim. There’s no sign of any sort of life at Ipuy and Snofru’s house; Snofru is the baby of the family, so I’m pretty sure the jerk is alive, and now that the silence has been broken, you can hear a high-pitched buzzing sound, the wailing of the bereaved in nearly every Mitsri household, under the noise of marching families and flocks and herds. I wonder if we’ll be gone before it stops.